We All Need Experts
What a great end to last week I had. A visit to Groundswell - the regenerative farming festival - followed by a day off at the Chalk Valley History Festival - and then an inspiring visit to an organic farm to see their wildflower meadows, with a view to harvesting seed.
The emphasis at Groundswell is on talks and there's a full schedule in multiple venues over the show's two days. The quality of the speakers was excellent, and there was an engaging range of topics on offer, including the unexpected (Kelly Jowett from Rothamstead on Carabid beetles).
The show attracts high profile speakers* like Natural England's Tony Juniper. It's such a delight to hear from proper experts. At Chalk Valley History Festival I was captivated by Alex Langlands' lecture on Old Sarum. Fantastic; enthusiasm in spades, great communicator, an academic at the top of his game.
Groundswell is relatively young but growing expedentially, which is of itself hugely encouraging; I'd recommend it to anyone with an interest in the natural world. There were lots of exhibitors of course, ranging from Conservation NGOs to agricultural machinery makers. It was good to meet not just farmers I know, but also catching up with NGOs we work with and folk like Rainbow, whose exciting new biodegrable tree shelters we'll be selling this bare root season. I had a good natter too with PTES's indefatigable hedge hero Megan Gimber.
It's always so nice actually going to a physical gathering, and I'd say there was an upbeat and enthusiastic buzz around the show, in contrast to so many virtual events or "debates" on social media. The punters were a very mixed bunch but there were some pretty high powered people there. The farmers there I knew have a lot of acreage between them (and a lot of wildflower meadows!), and - for example - I found myself learning more about floodplain meadows sitting next to Guy Singh-Watson. It really did feel very encouraging and positive, in contrast with some of the stuff I've been reading recently.
I'm increasingly gobsmacked by the egos on display and the blue on blue attacks in the media space between people ostensibly fighting the same fights against biodiversity loss and climate change. It's nuts, and it must stop. What we're all trying to do is urgent, critical, and really, really difficult. There isn't the time to deal with intolerance or be led astray by short term commercial logic, and alienating people or peddling a particular ideology is hopeless. Particularly without effective government leadership we need everyone on board - quickly - and a holistic, evidence based approach to putting this stuff right.
Most people at Groundswell were trying to do the right thing - and in a practical way. The fact they represented a broad church was very encouraging. There are always going to be disagreements, but everyone was fundamentally trying to do the right thing.
I guess it was slightly disconcerting to see the way the related consultancy industry is sprouting up. As usual it's where the money is, I suppose. We do need to start acknowledging and rewarding expert practitioners better.
And talking of which, here's a photo from my site visit on Friday. Just the sort of project we should learn from and celebrate.